A soft or hard g.
This week’s readings all centered around the animated GIF (graphic interchange format), a file format introduced in 1987 that wasn’t really intended to be used for animation, but has today become synonymous with short animated loops. Much like photography, the “low-tech” aspect of the file format has allowed for it flourish both within the artistic community and within the greater “mass culture” of the internet, encompassing everything from kittens and puppies being cute, to segments of popular films, to undulating abstract shapes (Tom Moody’s 2005 OptiDisc comes to mind). To be perfectly honest, while I love a good GIF when it pops up in my tumblr feed as much as the next person, I’m not at all a part of the community that seems to be primarily interested in them - I don’t use Reddit, I’ve never been on 4chan, and half the time when I see a meme pop up on facebook I have to run to google to figure out what the joke is. The idea of animated GIFs being part of a greater dialogue, remixing and reinterpreting aspects of mass culture and internet culture into some new, weird thing is interesting, but is also something that often seems coded in a way that’s designed to keep me out, to keep the joke inside. Nonetheless, I appreciate the blurred lines between the art consumer and the art producer, and the deskilled aspect of the gif - the idea that anybody can basically make a gif with little effort, as well as the idea that a gif could be highly intellectualized and highly stupid at the same time.
A particularly saccarine moment from “elegant” blog From Me To You.
Perhaps a result of just how new the gif itself is, many of the readings this week seemed to have contradicting viewpoints of what constituted a good gif, or what exactly was exciting about the future of the format. Anil Dash seems to argue that the most exciting possibilities of the animated gif are those in which the gif more closely resembles film, or inhabits still photographs with elements of movement. To Dash, the animated gif “invites participation, in a medium that’s both fun and accessible, as the pop music of moving images, giving us animations that are totally disposable and completely timeless.” This kind of discussion sends up major red flags for me, both in the sense that no image, wether existing as a gif, a photograph, or in any other medium, is ever anything other than a product of the time in which it was made, as well as through her use of the word disposable. What exactly makes disposability a positive attribute? Why would the increasing ability to make a gif look like something other than a gif make it a more dynamic and exciting medium? Aside from removing the wait time of streaming video (which in and of itself is something of a non-issue with most video these days), what is so exciting about making a gif function more like a video? Why not simply shoot video? It’s not as if HD video is something beyond most artists means (and from the looks of it, the photographers behind this type of work are shooting on equipment that could easily shoot HD video as well.) The use of the format to these means seems besides the point - not to say that all gif art should stick to the jumpy, glitchy aesthetics of early 90’s computer graphics, but pushing the medium to seamlessly appear to be something else seems like an obvious gimmick. Paddy Johnson sums up this argument well in her rebuttal of Dash’s article: “while Jamie Beck’s images have a blinking postcard type of appeal, the same question occurs to me while looking at them as did last night while watching Werner Herzog’s Forgotten Cave of Dreams in 3D: What does this effect add to the narrative that the image itself doesn’t already tell me? The answer is nothing. It’s just a cheap parlor trick.”
Tom Moody. OptiDisc. 2005.
Sally McKay, on the other hand, argues that animated GIFs repeat, loop and exaggerate the “affective intensity” of a given clip, creating a “felt sensation” that is present for the viewer almost like an optical illusion. McKay uses Tom Moody’s OptiDisc as an example, which uses the jumpy, glitchy qualities of the gif to create a series of concentric circles which move forward and backward in space. ”Engaging the viewer’s perceptual system directly — within the codes and conventions of online production — OptiDisc is very present, functioning more like a felt sensation than a merely visual observation." McKay states, continuing: ”In this way OptiDisc operates in the ‘here and now’ as Margaret Morse might say, but without the institutional structuring of the art museum to enframe and stage the experience.” To McKay, by removing the mediation of the traditional experience of art within the white cube, the viewer is allowed to experience gif imagery more directly, and in a way that toys with our experience of physical movement, rather than simply visual movement. McKay argues that the jerky motions of gif imagery are what allow for this type of illusion to occur, creating large gaps within the frame rate that that push against seamless motion while still maintaining the illusion of movement. McKay goes on to say “As Mieke Bal might describe it, the animated GIFs function like cinematic close-ups — ‘abstractions isolating the object from the time-space coordinates in which we were moving as if ‘naturally.’ A close-up immediately cancels out the whole that precedes it, leaving us alone, thrown out of linear time, alone with a relationship to the image that is pure affect.’ Unlike close-ups in cinema, however, animated GIFs function without a “whole” — there is no ongoing narrative for them to be juxtaposed against.” This idea that gif imagery functions by removing an image from any possible narrative implications, allowing it to function as it’s own autonomous experience seems obvious, yet also important. By focusing on detail, rather than a narrative whole, creators of gifs are able to borrow both from filmic and photographic structures, creating an experience that is at once moving and static, telling a portion of a story without having to deal with the before or after of it’s narrative. I suppose this is an answer to my question in the previous paragraph - by using the fragmentary nature of gif imagery, creators can make works which reference both photography, illustration, and film, yet are experienced as something wholly different.
I think It’s interesting to note that the majority of gif’s I’ve noticed I’m attracted to highlight the outmoded and somewhat crappy nature of the technology itself. Saul Chernick’s animations of drawings from the 500 year old book Heideberger Totentanz create a tongue and cheek commentary on the kitsch nature of the gif itself, maintaing a comic appearance that almost mimic cartoons of the present day.
Kevin Bewersdorf’s Windows 95 corporate kitsch mandalas (my own terrible term, not his) take as much from psychedelic graphics and eastern religious imagery as they do bad Internet 1.0 graphics and early clip art gifs, creating a strange commentary on the faith we put in technology, as well as the almost cult like status we give to tech companies and their heads. Bewersdorf’s images are both spiritual and kitschy, hilarious and depressing, and seem to revel in the outmoded logic of the “dawn of the internet.”
BOOMBANGBAM found on Joy of Gif.
This gif takes footage of an atom bomb test and loops it into an endlessly playful cycle of explosion, blocking the blast itself with a colorful dot both reminiscent of Baldessari and of retinal burns. Similar to the way in which Anime films often employ ideas of rebirth and regeneration after global annihilating blasts (the opening sequence to Daicon IV comes to mind, in which Tokyo is destroyed by a nuclear bomb and then saved by a swarm of cute cartoon characters), this gif utilizes the aesthetics of kitsch to disempower the brutality of the imagery it takes as it’s main source. The punchline of the gif seems to be the silent thud of the explosion. At the same time, the way flash of the explosion momentarily whites out the image is quite jarring. By endlessly looping the footage of a very serious historical event, the gif draws us in, highlighting our attraction and repulsion to it’s subject.